Two former rivals of Conservative MP Maxime Bernier told reporters that Andrew Scheer made the right decision in firing him from his role as innovation critic for the Official Opposition, but stopped short of personally condemning Bernier.
Speaking with reporters following caucus meetings on Wednesday morning, Erin O’Toole and Tony Clement said they agreed with Scheer’s decision, but cautioned against judging Bernier too harshly for his actions.
“I like Max a lot but I think Max needs to reflect on what it means to be part of a team,” O’Toole said. “You have to put your own ambitions aside. I did that after the leadership. It was a tough leadership [race] but we’re all behind Andrew, and I think Max hasn’t committed to that.”
“Releasing it [the chapter], particularly at a time when we’re trying to rally together with regards to negotiations on NAFTA, was very unfortunate and hopefully he’ll earn his way back.”
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Clement, a personal friend of Bernier’s, also said he “absolutely” supported Scheer’s decision.
But he also offered a heated defence of the Beauce MP, who he said remained a valued member of caucus.
“If you’re asking me do I condemn Max Bernier, no, I don’t,” he said. “I think we should offer grace and compassion to people in this situation or in other situations that we find ourselves in. Don’t even try to get me to condemn Max Bernier.”
Regarding Bernier’s actions, reporters asked Clement to clarify which one specifically he felt warranted more compassion.
Clement did not specify if he was referring to the decision to post the already-published chapter or to what some observers have coined a case of “sour grapes” over losing the leadership vote.
“He’s a human being who makes mistakes,” Clement said. “We all make mistakes, so let’s get off our high horses here. I know you want to make a big deal about this, but I’m here to say I’m not here to condemn him. You’re here with the cameras on me, you’re here floating all these questions. I’m not here to condemn.”
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On Tuesday evening, Scheer said in a press release he had removed Bernier from his position in the Conservative shadow cabinet but did not give a reason.
A party official later said the decision stemmed from Bernier posting a chapter opposing supply management from his contentious book, Doing Politics Differently: My Vision for Canada, on his personal website.
Bernier postponed publication in April.
That came after an excerpt of the chapter was published as promotional material for the book and sparked accusations he was being divisive.
Bernier and Scheer were the last two standing in a fierce leadership race for the party last year, with Scheer winning by less than one per cent of votes.
The excerpt from Bernier’s chapter on supply management included the assertion that Scheer only won because of support from “fake Conservatives,” who bought memberships to prevent any changes to the supply management system.
Bernier pushed back on Tuesday night, saying the chapter posted to his website had already been published and he was not putting anything new out there.
Other Conservative MPs offered more cautious words on Wednesday.
Immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the decision was entirely within Scheer’s power as leader of the party.
“The decision on who is in shadow cabinet is the prerogative of our leader,” she told reporters.
Brad Trost, who also ran against Scheer and Bernier in the leadership race, offered similar sentiments.
“He wanted someone exactly on his view on supply management in shadow cabinet,” Trost said of Scheer.
Another former leadership rival, Deepak Obhrai, declined to comment.
Bernier himself also did not offer comment on the matter.
He was seen exiting the Conservative caucus chamber Wednesday morning, but did not stop to speak to reporters.